An abstract is a formal proposal to present a paper. Its purpose, bluntly, is to convince conference organizers that a paper will be (a) smart and (b) not boring–that it will interest fellow conference-goers.  Abstracts generally describe the proposed paper’s topic and argument, identify its main materials, and suggest why it will matter to others.

Here are a few hints for preparing abstracts:


  1. Spend time coming up with a good title for your proposed paper—one that will describe the project and attract listeners.
  2. Make a good first impression. Submit a clear, easy-to-read document. It should be attractive, free of typos and other errors.
  3. Get to the point. State your thesis decisively. (Or, in the case of a creative submission, describe the work’s principal aims and qualities.)
  4. Emphasize your own ideas more than the work of others. While it’s good to show yourself informed, you should quote authorities sparingly.
  5. Make every word count. Eliminate jargon, passive constructions, nominalizations, and all other forms of wordiness. Stick to the word limit.


Q: Will I be contractually obligated to write the paper I’ve proposed, or will it be OK if my topic or thesis changes?

A: Everyone understands that an abstract is to some extent a forward-looking fiction. It is OK and indeed expected that your project will evolve. Your paper should, however, address the general topic you’ve advertised. (You generally are stuck with your title or something quite like it.) It’s not OK for a proposal on The Waste Land to turn into a paper on Frankenstein.

Q: Do I need to include a Works Cited list with the abstract?

A: No.

Q: Are there sample abstracts out there that I might imitate or at least learn from?

A: Absolutely. We recommend that you talk to your professors about this. They can mentor you as you craft your abstracts and perhaps share some of their own conference abstracts with you.


The English Symposium is sponsored by the BYU English Department and organized by the English Society and the English Graduate Student Association.